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Why there could be No Substantive Negotiation between Somaliland and Somalia

 By Mohamed A. Suleiman
Thursday, Apr 05 2018


The establishment of a friendly relations between Somaliland and Somalia, let alone the reunification of the two countries, is becoming increasing improbable. This is because the Somali government continues to breach one internationally recognized guiding principle of reconciliation after the other.

The basic tenets of these guiding principles stipulate that reconciliation is a process of healing relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms; that requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources; that requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of the failed union between British Somaliland and Somalia that have had destructive impacts on the people of Somaliland; and that requires sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement, about the history and catastrophic legacy of the unification of July 1st, 1960.

As a starting point, the recognition of these guiding principles and applying them in earnest to help resolve the affiliation issue which set Somaliland and Somalia at loggerheads cannot be repulsed under any pretext. Furthermore, we need to establish a few historical facts for the record.

First, as the former president of Somaliland, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, expressed in a letter entitled ‘Why the UK Should Support a Sovereign Somaliland’ dated June 23, 2016, the London Gazette published a proclamation by Her Majesty the Queen terminating British protection over the Somaliland Protectorate and declaring that Somaliland would become an independent country on June 26. That day in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, the Union Flag was lowered for the last time and the United States Secretary of State sent a message of congratulation. Over 30 countries from across the globe recognized Somaliland’s independence right away and welcomed the new nation to the fold of the international community. Five days later, Somaliland voluntarily joined Italian Somalia to form a new state: the Somali Republic.’ If there is to be reconciliation, it is imperative that Somalia understand that this is a historical fact that could not be changed or misrepresented in any shape or form.

Secondly, when Siyad Barre’s forces were ultimately driven out of Somaliland in early 1991, Somaliland embarked on a long road of reconciliation and reconstruction. On the other hand, Mogadishu and the rest of Somalia engaged in a vicious cycle of revenge killings that are comparable only to the infamous massacres that took place in Rwanda between the Tutsis and the Hutus.

While the people of Somaliland chose reconciliation over conflict, the misgivings and wrong doings of the military regime, with Siyad Barre at the helm, cannot be underestimated. The marginalization and brutality that the citizens of Somaliland suffered and the atrocities that were committed there are vividly engraved in the people’s collective psyche. The mass murders, the lootings, the rape of girls and women, the killing of innocent children are all crystal clear in everybody’s mind. The bombing raids carried out by mercenaries on Hargeisa and vicinity and other towns, including refugees who were fleeing the onslaught, will forever be difficult to shake. The roundup, the incarceration, the summary execution of scores of intellectuals and community leaders, simply because they belonged to a distinct social group, could never be erased from memory. Again, if there is to be reconciliation, it is vital that Somalia realizes that these are the realities that precipitated Somaliland’s reclamation of its sovereignty and that Somaliland’s grievances should be given the affirmation that they deserve.

To suggest that the process which led to the reclamation was impulsive or spontaneous, as some people would like to believe, is utterly ridiculous and counterproductive. As a matter of fact, a constitutional referendum was held in Somaliland on 31 May 2001 on a draft constitution that affirmed Somaliland's independence from Somalia as a separate state. Two-thirds of eligible voters took part in the referendum and 97.1% of them voted in favour of the constitution. Therefore, Somalia needs to understand that Somaliland is unlike any of the so-called Somali Federal States which typically resemble the tribal homelands that existed in South Africa for the Black South Africans during the apartheid era. On the contrary, Somaliland is a multi-clan, multi-party democracy that proved to the international community and to itself that all is not lost in the Horn of Africa.

This being the case, Somalia still willfully dismisses, underestimates or denies the gravity of the atrocities that were committed in Somaliland; they vilify the aspirations of the people of Somaliland and treat their indelible right to self-determination with disdain, cynicism and sarcasm, thus denigrating the hard thought efforts of the people of Somaliland; and they routinely bring a few self-styled opportunists from Somaliland to their fold and then claim that the people of Somaliland are represented in the Mogadishu administration.

As Aldous Huxley wrote in one of his famous essays, “facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Therefore, unless Mogadishu wakes up and their so-called leadership demonstrates some form of situational wisdom, the current fallacy that they are entertaining will lead to nowhere.

Thirdly, reconciliation needs superb leadership skills, empathy, wisdom and goodwill. Leaders who could bring reconciliation efforts to fruition are endowed with high order thinking. They are known to exercise critical reasoning and utilize superb problem solving skills. They inspire people and give them hope in places where hopelessness is prevalent. In addition, they are flexible, open minded, observant, sensitive, objective, and generally free from extreme dogmas and ideologies. They strife for consensus, refrain from unnecessary divisive rhetoric, and show a tremendous respect for divergent opinions and thoughts. Most importantly, they uphold a universal protocol where they stick to the issues at hand rather than engage in personal attacks, witch-hunt, and scapegoating.

Although Somalia’s current leaders, namely Farmajo and Kheyre, sport the title of president and prime minister respectively, their track record when it comes to their brief involvement in the Somali politics indicates that they are utterly devoid of any of those distinctive characteristics that define effective leadership.


As the former president, Silanyo, also communicated to the UK Foreign Office, Somaliland has worked hard to develop the economic potential of its citizenry. In May 2016, the country signed a 30 year agreement with DP World to manage the strategic Port of Berbera. Significant investment in the port and the road corridor that links Berbera with Ethiopia will be unlocked, and Ethiopia plans to import 30% of its goods through Berbera. The government and the people of Somaliland understand the significance of the agreement and the economic prosperity that it will create for the people of Somaliland that will result from the integration in the regional economy.

Instead of welcoming this tremendous opportunity that dawned on the people of Somaliland and giving it a positive spin that may have softened the hearts and minds of the people of Somaliland, Mogadishu kicked up a fuss that exposed the enduring hostility that Somalia harbours towards its neighbour to the north.

Mogadishu remains to be oblivious to the fact that, despite the political and geographic divide that is obviously affecting the relations between the two countries, it is a well-known fact that the two territories are economically integrated and that there is a free movement of goods and services across the borders. This being the case, it is a no-brainer that a significant investment like the one that DP World is undertaking at Berbera will have a trickle-down effect that would definitely improve the lot of many in the region. If the Mogadishu administration could not fathom that prosperity is their best public relations instrument, one wonders what else we could expect from the likes of Farmajo and Kheyre.

It is quite evident that the Mogadishu administration continues to push all the wrong buttons when it comes to their understanding of the Somaliland phenomenon. They seem to be unaware of the circumstances that precipitated the re-creation of Somaliland as a sovereign state. The only plausible explanation for their callous disregard is the fact that inefficacious people tend to believe that scapegoating would detract from their own failures. The earlier they realize that running away from your problems is a race you will never win, the better things could be better for the people of Somalia.

Finally, if Mogadishu is serious about negotiating with Somaliland and is not engaged in the process as a distraction from its own failures, they should meet the following preconditions that may pave the way to some form of harmonious neighbourly relations:

  1. Unambiguous affirmation of Somaliland’s indelible right to self-determination.
  2. Validation of the genuine grievances of the people of Somaliland and unequivocal recognition of the atrocities that were committed there in the name of the Somali government.
  3. Extradition of Mohamed Saeed (Morgan), the architect of the ethnic cleansing manifesto dubbed “Top Secret” that became the guiding strategy of Siyad Barre’s engagement in Somaliland.
  4. Explicit acceptance of responsibility of what happened in Somaliland and a sincere apology to its people.
  5. Terminating the use of the inflammatory rhetoric that they continue to spew, including that Somaliland is just another region of Somalia.
  6. Establishment of a trust fund for the victims and a compensation procedure that is transparent and verifiable.

It is about time that Somaliland plays a hard ball with the Mogadishu administration and not allow them to continue to add insult to the injury. In the absence of Somalia agreeing to these preconditions, Somaliland should not even entertain sitting across the table from Somalia.

Mohamed A. Suleiman is a freelance writer and could be reached at: [email protected]

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